With a fairy-tale home life and a powerhouse personal brand, E! personality and dynamic entrepreneur Giuliana Rancic strides into her 15th year with the network—happy, healthy, and loving her new life.
Bell blouse, Givenchy ($1,495). Saks Fifth Avenue, Tysons Galleria, 703-761-0700. Larissa open-pleat pants, Alice + Olivia by Stacey Bendet ($295). 3303 M St. NW, 202-602-0445. 18k gold Triplicity necklace, Hearts on Fire. (price on request). jamesandsons.com. Bangles and rings, her own
What an epic five years it’s been for Giuliana Rancic. The longtime star of E!’s Fashion Police was declared cancer-free after a double mastectomy in 2012, then welcomed her son, Duke, later that year. Since then, she has stepped back into the spotlight in a serious way, launching the wildly popular HSN fashion collection G by Giuliana and the wine line Xo, G; writing a New York Times best seller, Going Off Script; and partnering with husband Bill Rancic to expand the RPM dining brand with the recently opened restaurant RPM Italian in DC.
With Rancic gracing her first Capitol File cover, it was clear that only her husband could do the interview justice—and the former winner of The Apprentice was happy to oblige. In a playful pre-awards-season chat, Giuliana talks openly with Bill about her newfound peace, the life-changing lessons of the past five years, and what it’s like to come home to DC.
Giuliana, thank you for sitting down with me. I really appreciate you taking the time. It is an honor and a privilege.
My goodness! I wasn’t prepared for something so official.
I try to be a professional in every way I can. Just recently you celebrated five years since having your final surgery. Take us through the journey of the last five years.
The five-year milestone is so important in breast cancer. I feel like I’ve come full circle. [Five years ago] there was just so much fear and uncertainty in my future. At five years, I’m so much more calm, and I’m such a different person in a way, and really better because of it.
Which leads me to my next question. When you look back at the five years, tell me the three biggest changes in Giuliana.
There are so many, but I think the main one is I just appreciate life more. I mean, you just do. When you go through something like breast cancer, as you always say, Bill—I’m going to steal a line from you, and I’m giving you credit—
—which is very rare.
Normally, I steal lines from you but I don’t give you credit.
Here I’m going to give you credit, since you’re here in front of me. You always say, “When you go through something big in life, you turn down the volume on the little things and the things that don’t matter, and you turn up the volume on the things that do matter.” I think that’s what I’ve done in the past five years, and I think you can see it through the decisions I’ve made, especially with work.
And personally as well. The biggest has been pulling back on the day-to-day work life so that I could move to Chicago and be able to take Duke to school every day. Going back to your question, I think I’m much stronger than I was before.
I used to think I was strong, but I didn’t realize how strong I could be. I remember a great quote that I used to always look at, something along the lines of “You realize your true strength when you have no other choice but to be strong.”
You’re out of options.
I had no choice… and I realized, Wow, I’m a strong chick. That was one of the positives of breast cancer, that realization, because it has helped me go through other things these past five years. The third thing is... You know, I’ve always been empathetic, but I think that got turned up a lot, especially with women and the issues women go through.
Dress, Pamella Roland ($2,990). Neiman Marcus, Tysons Galleria, 703-761-1600. Copley diamond bangle and 18k Copley bangle (prices on request), Hearts on Fire. jamesandsons.com. Choker and bangles, Rancic’s own
Speaking of that, I think one of the things I’m extremely proud of you for doing is creating Fab-U-Wish. Tell me what that has meant to you.
Fab-U-Wish I created not long after I had my surgery. You and I were driving in the car one night, and we came up with the name Fab-U-Wish.
You like to think you came up with the name, right?
Are you kidding me?
I think I came up with it.
Wow, this is unbelievable.
Okay, you’re right. Maybe you did.
I have to have a trademark attorney on retainer in the house. [Laughs]
Fab-U-Wish was a way to give back to other women going through breast cancer, but really tied to my own experience. I remember going back to work for the first time after my double mastectomy. I got my hair and makeup done, and I put on a pretty dress, and I looked in the mirror, and it was the first time in a very long time I recognized the person looking back at me.
The old you.
The old me. The girl before the breast cancer. Seeing that really helped me say, “You know what? I don’t have to be a different person. I can be myself. I can still have the life I had before. I’m going to get through this, and I’m going to stay the same woman that I am.” That was very helpful, and I thought, I wish I could do this for other women and just let them feel fabulous for the day. That’s how Fab-U-Wish came about. We’re almost five years in, and since then we’ve partnered with the Pink Agenda, which is under the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Together, we fulfill wishes and also raise money for breast cancer research. It’s been incredible.
Speaking of Fab-U-Wish, this is Capitol File’s Spring Fashion Issue. What excites you about fashion?
Everything. I love fashion, but I grew up in a fashion-centric household. My father [Eduardo DePandi] is still, at 79, a master tailor from Naples, Italy. Still, every day, he makes these beautiful custom Italian suits for some of the best-dressed men in Washington, DC. I’m very proud of my father.
“WHEN OUR PARTNERS APPROACHED US ABOUT MAKING DC OUR FIRST [RESTAURANT] VENTURE OUTSIDE OF CHICAGO, I WAS OVER THE MOON.” —GIULIANA RANCIC
It’s in your DNA.
Just growing up in that household, my mom loves fashion, my sister used to work for Versace when she first started her career. I remember one night we were going to a very nice party in DC. I was a teenager. I came down in a pantsuit. My dad said, “No, Giuliana. Go back upstairs and get your big sister’s Versace dress out of her closet.” I’m like, “Okay, when Monica finds out that I’m wearing this Versace dress, you’ve got to defend me, Dad.” The point is, my dad had such a great eye.
You have quite an eye for it, so much so that you’ve created the G by Giuliana line of clothing for HSN. What can we expect in the Spring collection? Are you wearing it now? I know you are.
I’m always wearing G by Giuliana. I hear other designers say, “Oh, I don’t necessarily design for myself. I design for all women.” But first and foremost, I think you should design what you love, and then take it from there. Because you need to love it and you need to want to wear it.
Let’s shift gears. You grew up in Bethesda and chose to attend undergraduate and graduate school in the DC metro area. Why did you decide to stay close to home?
I chose University of Maryland at College Park for their exceptional journalism program. I had my eye on Maryland’s program for many years and was thrilled when I was accepted. As for graduate school, American University has a terrific program that allows students to experience reporting in the nation’s capital. Each day, we would choose a different beat to cover: the Supreme Court, the Pentagon, the White House, the State Department, or Capitol Hill. We had incredible access. I wouldn’t have been able to get that kind of experience at many other schools. Being part of that program gave me a solid foundation and truly shaped me as a journalist.
When you moved to LA, what was the first thing you missed about DC?
My family and friends! I graduated on a Sunday and was on a flight to LA the following Friday. It was my first time living away from home and I was completely alone. I was terrified but excited. I didn’t know a soul in Los Angeles—no famous uncle or any other connections to the business—so I had to figure things out quickly. But I’m glad that was the case, because it made me fight harder from the start. I always knew my old life would be waiting for me back in DC if things didn’t work out, and that gave me tremendous comfort in hard times.
I thought you were going to say you missed Mama DePandi’s cooking the most!
Oh wait, I take back everything I said… Yes, there is nothing I missed more than my mom’s pasta!
When you first got into the restaurant business, did you know you would want to open one in DC?
It was always on my mind, but I never lobbied for it because we were so focused on being the best in the Chicago market with RPM Italian and RPM Steak. When our partners approached us about making DC our first venture outside of Chicago, I was over the moon.
What drew my family here from Naples, Italy, in the first place was the success story of two of my uncles who owned a slew of popular restaurants in the DC area—Tiberio, Tragara, Terrazza, Piccolo Mondo, Otello, and Rigoletto. Another uncle later opened Pasta Mia in Adams Morgan. We immigrated when I was 7, and I grew up in these restaurants. That time in my life holds a special place in my heart. So for me it’s very personal. I’ve always loved coming home, but now that we have a restaurant here, it’s even better.
What do you want RPM Italian to feel like, look like, taste like when DC diners visit?
One thing I want is for people to love the ambiance. I love the way RPM feels—it’s chic and sexy and has incredible energy, yet you can still hear everyone at the table talking without getting drowned out by loud music or bad acoustics. A memorable dining experience comes from that perfect alchemy of getting every element right, even the sound waves. Obviously, the two most important factors are always going to be the food and the service, and I think we’ve nailed both.
I know the answer to this question, but what is your favorite dish on the menu?
You know me too well, honey… Mama DePandi’s Bucatini Pomodoro, of course. I have a confession to make that I have never told anyone before: The last time we were at RPM in DC with my mom, she leaned over and whispered to me that she thinks the way the Neapolitan chef prepares her pasta is even better than the way she prepares it at home! I could not believe these words came out of her mouth, but then she ordered a second serving—no joke—and I knew she was for real. Too funny!
Was it different preparing to open a restaurant in your hometown, where your mother, whose recipes inspired the menu, lives?
It was different. I wanted to continue the family legacy of fine Italian dining. At the end of the day, that meant being both delicious and authentic. As you well know, authenticity is paramount to me, in every aspect of my life, so I wanted people to feel like they were enjoying a meal just like they would get at the best restaurants in Italy. But also, I knew my hometown friends would be dining here, and a lot of them grew up on my mom’s cooking, so I wanted to make sure the food was outstanding for them as well.
Last question: What’s it like being a mother?
It’s a life-changer, but it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me—you and Duke are the best things that have ever happened to me. He’s just the best. Every day, it’s something new and adorable. It’s a type of joy you just don’t get anywhere else. I love to laugh, as you know. Italian family, lots of laughter. But the kind of laugh that I experience when my son makes me laugh is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. When I look at him, I see you, and you’re the best dad I could have dreamed of. I just feel like my life’s complete. Things change, but right now life is beautiful.
I think that’s wonderful. Giuliana. On behalf of Capitol File magazine, thank you.
My goodness. I feel like I’m on the Today show and you’re Matt Lauer.
I appreciate your candor, and I think our readers are really going to enjoy this.
Thank you, Matt. I mean Bill. You had me fooled for a minute there.
Photography by: photography by eric levin. Styling by Kate Loscalzo. Hair by Morgan Leek Makeup by Ofelia Suar Feher for Mario Tricoci. Shot on location at InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile, 505 N. Michigan Ave., 312-944-4100. The InterContinental was built in 1929 and remains a true Chicago icon. Situated on the city’s Magnificent Mile, the hotel offers guests easy access to Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse, ENO Wine Bar, the I-Club and historic indoor pool, high-end shopping, and all the attractions Chicago has to offer.